Future of Kurdish oil uncertain as Iraq goes to polls

Experts believe result of April 30 general elections in Iraq not likely to clear uncertainities over Irbil-Baghdad oil dispute

Experts believe result of April 30 general elections in Iraq not likely to clear uncertainities over Irbil-Baghdad oil dispute

ANKARA - As Iraq goes to polls on Wednesday to elect its parliament, experts suggest different scenarios on the possible effects of the election results on the oil dispute between Irbil and Baghdad.

The Kurdish Regional Administration in northern Iraq has been embroiled in a longstanding row with the central government over shares of oil revenues, with Baghdad opposing the export of stored Kurdish oil in Turkey's Mediterranean export hub of Ceyhan, claiming it would bypass the country’s national State Oil Marketing Company and violate Iraq’s constitution.

Almost 1.5 million barrels of oil are currently sitting in Ceyhan awaiting Baghdad's approval to be exported. 

Solution for oil dispute is expected to be at the bargaining table in post-elections government formation process. Experts suggest different possibilities, such as an outcome that would allow Kurds to sell their oil on their own, or a fallout that would prolong the deadlock due to sides' failure to reconcile on the formation of the new government, leaving Turkey obliged to take initiative for selling the stored oil on its own. 

David Romano from Missouri State University told an Anadolu Agency correspondent that whoever else wanted to be prime minister would need Kurdish support to form a government, and there would be an agreement on hydrocarbons in the Kurds' favour.

"There is no way the Kurdish bloc would offer their support to any party that did not agree to this," he added.

- "Cabinet bargaining will bring solution"

Fahrettin Sumer from the American University of Iraq in Sulaymaniyah said he expected a solution to the Kurdish oil export deadlock after the elections, but it would not be right after the polls.

Sumer said that in the process of the new central government formation, the Kurdish side would aim to participate in the new government and also push for a solution to the deadlock during the government negotiations.

"Depending on the election results and to what extent the largest parties or coalitions need Kurdish support, this issue will be in the agenda, and some compromises will be made to reach a mutually acceptable solution," he added.

Sumer also said that Turkey would go with the solution that Irbil and Baghdad would find. 

- "No solution unless Turkey decides to allow Kurdistan to sell the oil"

"I do not think the elections will have an immediate effect since It will take months to form a government, judging on previous experience," said Marina Ottaway from Wilson Center.

She said the issue of independent oil export from Kurdistan was related to Iraq's unity, and added: "If Baghdad recognizes the right of Kurdistan to sign oil contracts and export oil independently of the State Oil Marketing Company, other regions will demand the same."

Ottaway said this was the beginning of the transformation of Iraq into a much looser federation, and none of the major parties and coalitions in Iraq was ready to take on this issue.

"I suspect the problem is not going to be solved unless Turkey decides to allow Kurdistan to sell the oil stored in Ceyhan," she said.

- "Iraq won't be strong enough to solve oil dispute after elections"

Energy expert Sardar Aziz said a possible resolution depended solely on the nature of the election outcome.

"If the Kurds end up being kingmakers, then we may expect steps toward a resolution, otherwise it is difficult," he added.

However, Aziz said, the latest security developments in Iraq indicated that the country was tattering, which made it difficult for any new leader to make a decisive move.

Judging by the general situation, the coming prime minister will be weaker, thus less able to solve any problem, let alone a complicated issue such as Baghdad-Irbil relations, Aziz said.

On Turkey's response, Aziz said that Turkey was eager to see the Kurdish oil sold in the market.

"At the same time Turkey is hesitant and wants the whole issue to proceed without a need for Turkey to take a side," he added.

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